I like the original idea at Cabinet Office that there was a link between the feeling of well-being and GDP. The collection of data must be costing a good few bobbies on the beat’s wages so let’s hope there’s something to it. But to be useful one must research the drivers of well-being, not just score it. And then do something about it.  I note that researching the drivers is in the next stage. Better hurry as this parliament is half way through.

There’s a ton of data that’s been released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Both in summary and in raw data form so people can produce lots of nice infographics and crowdsource some insight.

The whole release which came out today can be seen at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/wellbeing/measuring-national-well-being/first-annual-report-on-measuring-national-well-being/index.html. And take a peep at the front page of the ONS site – there’s tons of base data there.

I unashamedly reproduce the exec summary here as it has many interesting UK statistics and some facts.

Executive summary

Two years ago, the ONS launched the Measuring National Well-being (MNW) programme. The aim is to ‘develop and publish an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics which help people understand and monitor well-being’. Traditional measures of progress such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have long been recognised as an incomplete picture of the state of the nation. Other economic, social and environmental measures are needed alongside GDP to provide a complete picture of how society is doing.

The Economy

During the first part of the millennium, incomes and GDP were rising and debt levels were rising slowly. The recession in 2008 led to a sharp fall in GDP and impacted on income and debt levels at both the national and household level. Real income has fallen as inflation has grown faster than incomes, and the public sector debt ratio has increased. GDP has started to recover, but at a slower rate than before the recession.

  • Real household actual income per head (RHAI) in the UK grew from £16,865 to £18,159 between 2002 and 2008, before falling to near 2005 levels in 2011 (£17,862).
  • UK Public Sector Net Debt  grew between 32.5% and 42.8% of GDP between 2003 and 2008 before rising to 65.7% in 2011.
  • GDP per head increased during the first part of the millennium, fell by 6.1% between 2007 and 2009, before rising again between 2009 and 2011.


The recession has led to a higher proportion who are unemployed, with a particular impact on the young, and in 2009/10 more than 1 in 8 (12.3%) of us were finding it quite or very difficult to manage financially. Life satisfaction presents a more resilient picture, having remained broadly stable throughout the last decade and the most recent figures for those who report being somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their social life and job standing at  67% and 77.8% respectively and satisfaction with our family life averaging 8.2 out of 10 (where 1 is very dissatisfied and 10 is very satisfied).  In terms of our health which is one of the most important influences on our well-being, our ‘healthy’ life expectancy has increased as has our overall satisfaction with our health.

  • There has been a shift from employment to unemployment since the beginning of the recession, with the young being the worst affected. In Jun-Aug 2012 the UK unemployment rate for those aged 16-24 was 20.5% compared with 7.9% for those aged 16 and over.
  • In the 2009/10 in the UK, 12.3 per cent were finding it quite or very difficult to manage financially.
  • In 2011, just over three-quarters (75.9 per cent) of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their overall life satisfaction at the medium or high level.
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth in 2008-2010 was age 63.5 for males and 65.7 for females, in the UK, increases of 2.8 and 3.3 years respectively since 2000-02.
  • In the UK in 2009/10, 68.3 per cent were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their health.

The Environment

Long term progress is being made with protecting our local and global environment. More than half of us visited our natural environment at least once a week in the 12 months prior to interview in 2011/12 and nationally, the proportion of protected areas, including land and sea has increased. Globally, emissions and energy consumption have fallen and use of renewable energy has increased during the last decade.

  • In England in 2011/12, over half of us visited our natural environment at least once per week in the 12 months prior to interview.
  • The total extent of land and sea protected in the UK through national and international protected areas increased from 3.7 million hectares in 2005 to over 7.5 million hectares in 2011.
  • Emissions of carbon monoxide, the most prevalent air pollutant, has more than halved since 2000.
  • Use of renewable and waste sources more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 2.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to 7.1 Mtoe.


The Measuring National Well-being programme began in November 2010 with a six month National Debate, asking, ‘what matters’, to understand what measures of well-being should include. Following 175 events, with 2,750 people and 34,000 responses received online or via other channels, ONS developed a framework for measuring national well-being. The framework consists of 10 areas or ‘domains’, including areas such as Health, Education and What we do; and 40 headline measures of well-being, for example, the unemployment rate, satisfaction with our health, or levels of crime. These measures and others have been used to describe life in the UK 2012, under the headings, the Economy, People and the Environment, and can be seen in the interactive wheel of measures1.

Future plans

‘Better policies for better lives’ were words used by the OECD to describe the importance of going beyond GDP when measuring progress and national well-being.  The snapshot of life in the UK presented is only based on a small selection of headline indicators.  There is more to do to fully understand national well-being and what actions are needed to improve it. In particular, there is an important story in what lies beneath – where are the deviations from the norms and why, are there particular sub groups, for example, age groups, ethnic groups, those that are vulnerable for some reason or some other cluster which can be identified which differs considerably from others? Are there any particular geographical areas where things could be improved? Are we looking at the right measures?

The next phase of the Measuring National Well-being programme is to identify and explore in more detail those areas which deviate from ‘norms’ and to:

  • Review and further refine domains and measures of well-being and the criteria used to select them;
  • Develop means of appropriately assessing whether domains and/or measures are getting better or worse;
  • Research drivers of well-being

See more at  http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/interactive/well-being-wheel-of-measures/index.html

Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .

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